Disney’s copyright in earliest Mickey and Minnie Mouse enter public domain

Disney's copyright

Disney’s copyright expires

This year Disney is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Steamboat Willie, a 1928 short film featuring early non-speaking versions of Mickey and Minnie, is widely seen as the moment that transformed Disney’s fortunes and made cinema history.

Their images are now available to the public in the US after Disney’s copyright in the US expired.


Disney’s copyright has faced being lost several times in the past. The characters were first expected to go into the public domain in 1984, but US authorities extended the copyright term by 20 years.

US copyright law says the rights to characters can be held for 95 years, which means the characters in Steamboat Willie entered the public domain on 1 January 2024.

Different copyright rules and expiry dates apply in the UK and any commercial use of the characters that gives the impression that they belong to a brand other than Disney would still be a trade mark infringement issue.

While the more modern versions of the popular Mickey and Minnie characters remain protected by copyright as well as other IP rights, the expiry of copyright in the earliest versions means that anyone, such as cartoonists and others creatives, can now use the earliest images of Mickey and Minnie in the US in their own creative works without permission or cost.

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